I had heard about 2013’s Contracted, written and directed by Eric England, a few months ago. Depending upon which source I read for the description, this one dealt with the after effects of either a woman’s one-night stand or rape. After watching it, I’m in the camp that it was rape; whether drunk or drugged, Sam (Najarra Townshend) couldn’t give consent, plain and simple. Legally, an inability to give consent (caused by but not limited to lack of consciousness, alcohol intoxication, or drug influence) means that any sex that takes place without said consent constitutes rape. This is clear-cut. What absolutely alarmed me, though, was the treatment of her rape in the context of Sam’s sexuality, seeking of medical treatment and physical deterioration, proving that the simple lack of consent is not what defines the entire rape experience for the woman who endured the violation.
Sam is not dealt an easy hand when it comes to fending off the advances and attitudes of everyone in her life regarding her sexuality; her sexual assault makes this aspect even worse. She has an overly religious mother that rejects her daughter’s lesbianism, which rules out Mom as a sympathetic individual pretty early on. Her friend Riley (Matt Mercer) pines for her despite the fact that she’s made it clear that she’s not fundamentally interested. Hell, even Alice has an agenda at the party: while hoping to sleep with Sam, Alice encourages her to get drunk so that there’s a shot at sleeping with her. The drinking helps BJ (Simon Barrett) – who is never fully in focus during his screen time – slip Sam Rohypnol, which leaves her semi-conscious until she blacks out during sex (even then, she tells him, “We should stop… I’m serious… Please… Please…”). What happens from that point onward is a shame spiral for Sam centered around a conflict of both her consent and her sexual orientation: she feels that she can’t tell ex-girlfriend Nikki (Katie Stegeman) about the experience because the sex happened with a man rather than a woman; hell, Sam won’t even admit that she was raped, even after Alice iterates that the experience was a sexual assault. In fact, when Nikki does indeed find out about the rape from a concerned Alice, she angrily tells Sam that she’s not really gay, that Sam’s just going through a phase. This is slut-shaming a woman for her rape by means of blaming the drug for a perceived lapse in sexual orientation. That England wrote a common experience – rape at the hands of Rohypnol – that is still debated by victims and armchair commentators alike with careful attention to the persistent attitudes is one thing. That England also managed to bring in the attitudes toward the gay community and the marginalization of their assaults brought a depth I was not expecting.
This segues into Sam’s visit to the doctor, which left me angry on more levels than I care to admit.From the condoms with “LOVE” printed on them to the STI signs hanging all around her, it’s pretty clear that she’s at a clinic. However, the doctor is cold and shaming in nature, treating her like a child rather than recognizing a potential issue. After listening to her symptoms – especially a bad case of cramping and excessive vaginal bleeding, which would cause concern for any doctor worth his or her salt – he goes into a diagnosis of a cold. When her vaginal bleeding is addressed, it’s only verbally – at no point is a nurse called for in order to perform a physical exam, which is a massive red flag as a female patient. Their conversation is leaves some sketchy questions for me as well:
Doctor: Are you sexually active?
Doctor: I think you know why.
Sam: I’m a lesbian.
Doctor: Have you ever been sexually active with a man?
Yes, because women can’t give other women STIs. While we’re at it, he also lays into Sam about being honest (which I can understand, as some patients just refuse to be truthful), then moves on to glossing over her vaginal bleeding. When Sam expressly asks him about that – even after he’s seen the strange vein/flesh pattern on her lower abdomen, he still will not do an internal exam, dismissing it as, “Unless if this is some internal bleeding or some sort of unknown pregnancy…” Let me explain something for men, who have never had to undergo a gynecological exam: if you mention that you sneezed hard and felt some pain, a doctor will want to examine you. This isn’t to be pervy; this is due to the fact that silent infections can fester in your uterus and kill your chances of having children later on in life. Our plumbing’s not out hanging out to scream that something is obviously out of whack, hence the fact that an internal exam is needed to really tell if something is wrong. The doctor’s dismissal first of her ability to contract an STI from a woman and then to properly examine his patient is infuriating. And ladies, let me make this clear right now: if your gut is telling you that something is wrong with your body, demand the damn exam. You owe it to yourself.
So in between the dismissal of lesbianism by multiple characters and the flippant medical exam, we get to witness Sam’s physical deterioration post-rape, which equates her evolution into zombie with the physical and mental isolation many rape victims experience. Sam can’t articulate what’s happened to her; on many levels, she doesn’t want to admit that she was raped. Again, Alice has to point out very late in the film that she was actually raped and needs to go to the police, demonstrating a powerful denial on Sam’s part. We get to see the effects early on: she’s cold the night after, and bundles up in a fashion akin to the physical covering of “offending” skin that some rape victims have been known to exhibit. She wakes up on day two with lots of vaginal bleeding, as well as skin that is bruised, veiny and very pale – these are indicators of the physical trauma left behind after an attack. She can’t eat her salad, nor can she function at work with hearing that mimics a type of post traumatic stress disorder attack. She feels the need to clean up the blood in both the toilet at work and the sink (post-tooth extraction after brushing teeth) – Sam is essentially scrubbing away the proof of her attack and self-mutilating in a way that distracts her from what happened to her. Hell, her body is even leaking maggots at a few points, making her very sex organs a source of decay. Later, she seeks out drugs as a coping mechanism for her physical changes: when asked what she wants, she replies, “Something that can get me through the next 48 hours.” While she is not the most likable character in cinema by a long shot, that does not make her any less of a victim. That we get to watch her bodily suffer in a manner that mimics the feelings of loss and isolation that so many victims experience effectively made zombism a metaphor for the shell an untreated, silent victim is at risk of becoming.
As the film nears its climax, we watch as Sam puts makeup on in her decaying state, beautifying herself in anticipation of meeting Riley. While strange that he doesn’t notice her alarming state of appearance, the action seeks to focus on two parts: the victim’s need to feel loved and supported, and the blind eye that is turned to the obvious signs of physical and mental suffering. For a lesbian that was brushed aside in every other aspect of her identity, we shouldn’t be surprised. England, however, made sure to subtly let us know that we should be angry. And we should be angry. Stop and look around you. Look at the suffering someone may display in plain sight. Don’t let a victim become a zombie.